Defend Truth


Working from the ground up in the struggle against gender-based violence and femicide


Tirhani Manganyi is Programmes Manager at the GBVF Response Fund1. She was previously Programme Coordination Consultant for Generation Equality’s Action Coalition on gender-based violence (AC GBV) at UN Women.

South Africa holds the shameful distinction of being one of the most unsafe places in the world for women and girls. For decades, GBVF has not received the attention and action proportionate to its prevalence, which has led to a fragmented and inadequate response.

When we try to hide our feelings, we often forget that our eyes speak volumes. I will never forget the eyes of a young woman, let’s call her Thandi, whom I first met a few years ago. Her face was smiling but her eyes were not.

Her much older partner had always been abusive, but after he lost his job during the Covid-19 pandemic, things became worse. He hit her, swore at her and despite the fact that she was so much younger than him, he coerced her into sexual acts in exchange for money, alcohol and other benefits.

I recently saw her again during a regional site visit in my capacity as programme manager of the GBVF Response Fund1 (the fund). Following a brief conversation, I recognised a notable change in Thandi’s demeanour. Through the IMpower intervention, she learnt that her life was worth protecting. She started setting boundaries and learnt self-defence skills to escape anyone who attacked or attempted to rape her. She regained her self-confidence, became assertive and realised that her life could change.

And yes, her eyes were smiling.

IMpower is one of several evidence-based GBVF prevention interventions implemented by the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust (HACT), one of the community-based organisations (CBOs) that the fund has partnered with. It is an effective mechanism by which we have seen the perceptions, knowledge and assumptions of adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 19 challenged and changed.

By giving young women like Thandi agency through their voice and actions, we are empowering them to understand their worth and value, helping them to navigate a safer and healthier future.

This intervention is particularly important for the fund for a number of reasons, such as the need to prevent violence. Adolescent girls and young women face intersecting forms of violence in dating relationships, public spaces and also at home.

Early intervention aims to disrupt the intergenerational cycle of violence, because many individuals who were abused as children may become abusive themselves or end up in violent relationships.   

South Africa holds the shameful distinction of being one of the most unsafe places in the world for women and girls. For decades, GBVF has not received the attention and action proportionate to its prevalence, which has led to a fragmented and inadequate response. This was partly due to the absence of leadership which also influenced the allocation of resources to support and enable those responsible for programme delivery.

In early 2021, the fund was established as a bridging mechanism to support the implementation of the National Strategic Plan (NSP), until the National GBVF Council could be established to drive action over the longer term.

After an initial period of setting up the fund, there was a request for applications (RFP) process and subsequently, selected CBOs started implementing funded projects across the country. Since inception, the fund has allocated R42-million to 110 CBOs and R27-million to four intermediary partners who provided organisational capacitation for 53 CBOs.

Looking back, the fund has achieved several critical milestones and made significant strides in our collective efforts to support projects under Pillar two (which focuses on prevention and rebuilding social cohesion), Pillar three (which deals with justice, safety, and protection) as well as Pillar four (dealing with response, care, support and healing) of the NSP.

With this as context, we have intensified our focus on stopping violence before it begins through prevention efforts, amplifying the voices of victims and survivors, as well as creating enabling ecosystems to support and respond to the needs of victims and survivors.  

We have created awareness, strengthened knowledge, and improved understanding of GBVF and its impact in communities. Training workshops have equipped various stakeholders with the necessary knowledge and skills to identify and respond to GBVF in a more accountable manner. Skills-development initiatives have also provided support to survivors, empowering them to rebuild their lives.

One of the selection criteria that the fund used in the RFP was the prioritisation of CBOs addressing GBVF, but who haven’t received adequate funding. Consequently, the fund managed to increase accessibility and improve the quality of support services. Strategic partnerships, collaborations, and dedicated teamwork enabled us to make a tangible difference in the lives of survivors and those most at risk.  

The Fund is now entering its next phase of growth. Under the leadership of our CEO Sazini Mojapelo, the Presidency has extended our term of office to a further three years. After establishing a track record of mobilising funding and responding to some of the systemic issues that hamper progress, the fund will now expand its influence and intensify the critical and active role it’s been playing as a catalyst for making real, sustained and impactful change happen.

Academics define “impact” as efforts that create real value with a “marked effect or influence” on a particular entity or environment. Impact is therefore a key measure that we use to understand whether the fund is driving positive and sustained change where it is most needed.

When considering “impact”, let me ask: what does it take to offer girls a different type of township school? One which is passionate about freedom and independence for girls and women? One which encourages young girls to dream big and where they would be safe?

It takes the fund partnering with Molo Mhlaba, the first private school for girls in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape. This impressive school, with a focus on teaching STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) is deliberately run and driven by a group of women, themselves first-generation graduates.

While parents are expected to spend 30 hours a year volunteering at the school, Molo Mhlaba in turn provides parents with literacy skills training and assistance with mental health issues, as well as positive parenting and effective parent-child communication skills as a GBVF prevention intervention.  

Similarly, what does it take to provide care and survivor-friendly services to vulnerable groups such as persons living with disabilities (PLDs)? This vulnerable group is more likely to experience GBV, face unique challenges when attempting to access GBVF support services and experience a twofold discrimination based on their gender and disability.

It takes the fund collaborating with grant partners such as Iris House Children’s Hospice. The Fund’s grant enabled Iris House to design and launch the first-of-its-kind ALL Ability Victim Support Unit at Bothasig Police Station in one of Cape Town’s northern suburbs.

This facility provides a survivor-friendly space and support services that accommodate the needs of PLDs, with privacy and confidentiality guaranteed. The Support Unit serves as a shining example of what can be done to support and protect the rights of these vulnerable individuals.  

Iris House also provides training to first responders (including social workers, paramedics, members of community policing forums, and community-based organisations), SAPS officers, and prosecutors on how to gain meaningful statements from GBVF victims with disabilities as they open cases and in court. To communicate more effectively, they are taught basic Sign Language, and the 12 official languages of our country.

And lastly, what does it take to create violence-free zones in Umlazi of all places? Located just south of Durban, Umlazi ranked as one of the hotspots of murder and other violent crimes in South Africa.

It takes the fund joining forces with women’s rights organisations such as Ubuzwe Health Care Initiative (HCI), which contributes to the broader KZN network of Violence Against Women to establish Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) in Umlazi.

The RRTs identify violence “hotspots”, using data they collect, community dialogues take place and “community engagers” are recruited. These engagers undertake safety audits, participate in community clean-ups, assist in branding the areas as violence-free zones and conduct door-to-door campaigns to promote active community involvement.  

By continuously mobilising resources and collaborating with strategic partners like Molo Mhlaba, Iris House, HACT and Ubuzwe HCI, the fund aims to drive far-reaching change and create a society where all South Africans can live free from fear, violence, and discrimination.

Through our ongoing efforts and the considerable impact that the fund is making, we will remain relentless in our pursuit of a society where GBVF is eradicated, and respect is paramount.

Not only in Women’s Month, but all year round. DM


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